Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 49

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Genesis 49:1. Gather yourselves together — It was his will that they should all be sent for to see their father die, and to hear his dying words. It would be a comfort to him, who had sometimes thought himself bereaved, to see all his children about him when he was dying, and he hoped it would be a blessing to them to attend him in his last moments, and witness his confidence and hope in God, the serenity and peace of mind in which he could quit this world and all its concerns, to enter the invisible and eternal state. It appears that what he said to each he said in the audience of all the rest, for we may profit by the reproofs, counsels, and encouragements which are principally intended for others. In the last days — Or following times, when they should be settled in the land of promise. Hereby he signified that he was about to speak of things which concerned their posterity rather than themselves. “It is an opinion of great antiquity,” says Bishop Newton, on the Prophecies, “that the nearer men approach to their dissolution, their souls grow more divine, and discern more of futurity.

And what I conceive might principally give rise to this opinion, was the tradition of some of the patriarchs being divinely inspired in their last moments, to foretel the state and condition of the people descended from them; as Jacob summoned his sons together, that he might inform them of what should befall them in the latter days.” — Vol. 1. p. 85, second edition. We cannot tell our children what shall befall them or their families in this world; but we can tell them, from the word of God, what shall befall them in the last day of all, according as they conduct themselves in this world.

Verse 2
Genesis 49:2. Hearken, unto Israel your father — This chapter calls for our strictest attention, for it contains a number of predictions which were to be fulfilled at distant periods, through a long succession of ages; things depending upon so many various circumstances, upon such remote causes, so hid to all human view, so contrary to all appearances at the time they were spoken of, that it was impossible for any foresight or sagacity of man so much as to conjecture or imagine them. And yet they were all exactly and fully accomplished; many of them in distant ages, long after both the prophet and the recorder of the prophecies were dead. And surely nothing can give us a higher idea of the Scriptures, or more confirm our faith in them, than to observe events foretold in them, and spoken of with the most certain assurance, ages before they happened, and then to see all these things taking place accordingly. But what makes this chapter of still more value to us, and more worthy of our closest attention, is, that we have here a sure word prophecy, marking out the time and some peculiar circumstances of the coming of the Messiah so particularly as will furnish us with an invincible argument, that not only the Messiah is come, but also that Jesus, in whom we believe, is that Messiah: so that, being fully convinced in our hearts, as Peter was, (John 6:68-69,) we may say with him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Verse 3-4
Genesis 49:3-4. Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might — Begotten in the prime and vigour of my days; the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power — Such were the prerogatives of the birthright, which he would have enjoyed had he not forfeited and fallen from them by his sin; dignity above his brethren, and considerable power over them. Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel — As water is prone to flow, and still tends downward to an inferior situation, so Reuben should fall from the pre-eminence he had by birth. In the Chaldee paraphrase it is, “Thou wast to have had three parts, the birthright, the priesthood, and the kingdom; but thou hast followed thy own will; as water spilled, thou shalt not prosper.” Two shares of the inheritance, which are supposed to have belonged to the birthright, were given to Joseph, the priesthood to Levi, and the kingdom to Judah. And nothing great or excellent is recorded of the tribe of Reuben throughout the Scriptures. From it arose no judge, prophet, prince, nor any person of renown, only Dathan and Abiram, who were noted for their impious rebellion. This tribe, not aiming to excel, chose a settlement on the other side Jordan. Jacob here charges him with the sin for which he was disgraced. It was forty years ago that he had been guilty of this sin; yet now it is remembered against him. It left an indelible mark of infamy upon his family; a wound not to be healed without a scar.

Verse 5
Genesis 49:5. Simeon and Levi are brethren — In disposition, but unlike their father: they were passionate and revengeful, fierce and wilful; instruments of cruelty are in their inhabitations, or, as מכרתיהםmecherotheihem rather signifies, their counsels, or compacts, alluding to their treacherous agreement with the Shechemites: their swords, which should have been only weapons of defence, were (as the margin reads it) weapons of violence, to do wrong to others, not to save themselves from wrong.

Verse 6
Genesis 49:6. My soul, come not thou into their secret — Their cursed plot hatched in secret: far be it from me to approve of their secret designs. And let not mine honour — Or good name, be stained by being associated with theirs. Thus he signifies to all posterity that that bloody enterprise was undertaken without his consent, and that he could not think of it without detestation, nor let it pass without a severe censure. For in their anger they slew a man — Shechem himself, and many others: and to effect that wickedness they digged down a wall — Broke into their houses to plunder them, and murder the inhabitants.

Verse 7
Genesis 49:7. Cursed be their anger — Not their persons. We ought always, in the expressions of our zeal, carefully to distinguish between the sinner and the sin, so as not to love or bless the sin for the sake of the person, nor to hate or curse the person for the sake of the sin. I will divide them — The Levites were scattered throughout all the tribes, and Simeon’s lot lay not together, and was so strait that many of that tribe were forced to disperse themselves in quest of settlements and subsistence. This curse was afterward turned into a blessing to the Levites; but the Simeonites, for Zimri’s sin, Numbers 25., had it bound on.

Verse 8
Genesis 49:8. Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise — As thy name signifies praise, and God was praised for thee, (Genesis 29:35,) and shall be praised by and in thee, so shalt thou have praise and honour from thy brethren. The tribe of Judah led the van through the wilderness, Numbers 10:14, and, in the conquest of Canaan, by the appointment of God, went first up against the Canaanites, after the death of Joshua, 1:1-2. They had the first lot assigned them in the division of the country, and a lot that was very extensive and fertile. Othniel, the first judge, was of this tribe; and Caleb, whose reputation was not much inferior to that of Joshua. And all the kings that ever God granted the Jewish nation in mercy were of them. In short, in every age, this tribe was more honoured than any of the others. Thy hand shall be on the neck of thine enemies — An expression which signified victory over their enemies, and was remarkably fulfilled in David, Psalms 18:40. Thy father’s children shall bow down before thee — They shall not only acknowledge thy dignity above that of the other tribes, and pay such honour to thee as is wont to be conferred on the firstborn; but shall submit to the regal authority and power which shall be vested in thee. This was verified in God’s choosing the tribe of Judah, and David out of it, to govern the Hebrew nation, and in settling the kingdom of Israel in his stock for ever; but especially in the Messiah’s being born of this tribe, whose kingdom is everlasting, and to whom every knee shall bow.

Verse 9
Genesis 49:9. Judah is a lion’s whelp, &c. — The lion is the king of beasts, the terror of the forest when he roars; when he seizeth his prey, none can resist him; when he goes up from the prey, none dares pursue him to revenge it. By this it was foretold that the tribe of Judah should become very formidable, and should not only obtain great victories, but should peaceably enjoy what was gotten by those victories. Judah is compared, not to a lion rampant, always raging, but to a lion couching, enjoying the satisfaction of his success, without creating vexation to others.

Verse 10
Genesis 49:10. The sceptre — The dominion or government, which is expressed by this word, because it was an ensign of government. It is true, the word שׁבשׂ, shebet, here used, also signifies a rod, or staff of any kind, and particularly the rod or staff which belonged to each tribe, as an ensign of its authority, whence it is transferred to signify tribe, as being united under one rod or staff of government. It seems evident, however, from what has been observed on Genesis 49:8, that dominion, or authority, is also and especially here intended. But it is asked, How could it be said with propriety, the dominion, or authority, shall not depart from Judah, when Judah had none? To this it must be answered, that Jacob had just foretold that his father’s children should bow down to Judah, and that he, therefore, should have this authority or dominion. After which, it is predicted that it should not depart till Shiloh came. Nor a lawgiver from between his feet — The word מחקק, mechokek, here rendered lawgiver, means also ruler, or judge, and the prophecy certainly implies, not only that, while the other tribes should be captivated, dispersed, and confounded with each other, the tribe of Judah should be kept entire until Christ came; but that rulers and magistrates, descended from Judah, or called by his name, should succeed each other at least for a time, and that both the civil and ecclesiastical power should continue till Shiloh should come, and then should be taken away, or rather should devolve on him. Now, as it will readily be acknowledged that the authority remained with Judah till the captivity, so it must be observed, that even in Babylon, the Jews appear to have been under a kind of internal government, exercised by the family of David. “And after their return from Babylon, Zerubbabel, of David’s race, was their leader; and the tribe of Judah, and those who were incorporated with them, had regular magistrates and rulers from among themselves, under the kings of Persia and Syria, and afterward under the Romans.” The great council of the Jews, termed “the Sanhedrim, constituted chiefly of the tribe of Judah, and the other courts dependant on it, possessed great authority till the coming of Christ, according to the concurrent testimony of ancient writers. The tribe of Judah was likewise preserved distinct, and could trace back its genealogies without difficulty.” So that, “in all respects, the sceptre, though gradually enfeebled, did not depart: nor was the regular exercise of legislative and judicial authority, though interrupted, finally suspended till after that event.” — Scott. Till Shiloh come — It is not perfectly agreed among the learned what is the precise meaning of the word. But it is pretty certain, according to its derivation, it either signifies he that is sent, or, the seed, or, the peaceable and prosperous one. And that the Messiah is intended, Jews as well as Christians generally acknowledge; the word being expounded of him by all the three Chaldee paraphrasts, the Jewish Talmud, and many of the latter Jews also. Till he came Judah or Judea possessed considerable authority and power, but at or about the time of his birth, it became a province of the Roman empire, and was enrolled and taxed as such, Luke 2:1; and at the time of his death the Jews themselves expressly owned, “We have no king but Cesar.”

Hence it is undeniably inferred against the Jews, that our Lord Jesus is “He that should come,” and that we are to look for no other; for he came exactly at the time appointed. Unto him shall the gathering of the people be — After he came, and the sceptre was departed from Judah, the gathering both of Jews and Gentiles was to him, as to their King and Saviour. The pale of the church was enlarged, the partition between the Jews and Gentiles broken down, and the converted Gentiles, along with the converted Jews, became his subjects and worshippers. He became the “desire of different nations,” Haggai 2:7, and being “lifted up from the earth,” drew myriads unto him, John 12:32, and the “children of God that were scattered abroad” met in him as their centre of unity. This was the case, in a great degree, for many centuries, and we are taught to believe that it shall be the case more and more till the earth shall be filled with his glory; for of “the increase of his government, as well as peace, shall be no end.” The fulness of the Gentiles shall come in, and then “ungodliness shall be turned away from Jacob, and all Israel shall be saved.” And when “he shall come in his glory, all nations shall be gathered unto him,” and at last the innumerable multitudes of the redeemed shall be gathered into his everlasting kingdom.

Verse 11
Genesis 49:11. Binding his foal unto the vine — It is here foretold that the tribe of Judah should inhabit a fruitful land, and especially that it should abound with milk and wine: that vines should be so common and so strong that they should tie their asses to them, and so fruitful that they should load their asses from them, wine being as plentiful as water, so that the men of that tribe should be very healthful and lively, their eyes brisk and sparkling, and their teeth white. In Christ there is plenty of all that which is nourishing and refreshing to the soul, and which maintains and cheers the divine life in it: in him we may have wine and milk, the riches of Judah’s tribe without money and without price, Isaiah 55:1.

Verse 13
Genesis 49:13. Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea — This was fulfilled, when, two or three hundred years after, the land of Canaan was divided by lot, and the “border of Zebulun went up toward the sea,” Joshua 19:11.

Verse 14
Genesis 49:14. Issachar is a strong ass, couching down between two burdens — The men of that tribe shall be strong and industrious, fit for and inclined to labour, particularly the toil of husbandry; like the ass that patiently carries his burden. Issachar submitted to two burdens, tillage and tribute.

Verse 16
Genesis 49:16. Dan shall judge his people — Jacob alludes to the name Dan, which signifies to judge, or judging. Onkelos, a famous Jewish rabbi of the first century, and the author of a Targum or paraphrase in the Chaldee language on the books of Moses, the most simple and the most esteemed of all the Targums of the Jews, expounds the passage thus: “A man shall arise out of the tribe of Dan, in whose days his people shall be delivered;” referring to Samson, who was of that tribe, 13:2, and who judged Israel twenty years, 15:20. But the latter part of the verse seems not perfectly to agree with this, as all the tribes did not produce judges. The meaning, therefore seems rather to be, Though he be the son of one of my concubines, yet he shall not be subject to any other, but shall be a tribe governed by judges of his own, as well as any of the other tribes. And what is said of him is to be understood of the rest of the sons of the concubines, and hereby all difference between them and the sons of the wives is taken away. It is spoken of Dan, because he is first mentioned of that sort.

Verse 17
Genesis 49:17. An adder, שׁפיפוןshepipon — A cerastes, probably, or kind of horned serpent, of a subtle nature, which, according to Pliny, hides its whole body in the sand, showing only its horns to catch birds. This is intended to signify the subtlety of that tribe, which should conquer its enemies more by craft than by strength or force of arms, and by art, and policy, and surprise, gain advantages against them, like a serpent suddenly biting the heels of a traveller. “These words,” says Bishop Sherlock, “lead us to expect, in the history of this tribe, an account of some very dishonourable and perfidious transaction. And the history will justify this expectation,” for though the house of Israel were in general a stubborn and disobedient people, “yet it was the peculiar infamy of the tribe of Dan, to be the ringleaders in idolatry, the first who erected publicly a molten image in the land of promise, and, by their example and perseverance in this iniquity, infected all the tribes of Israel. This idolatry began soon after the days of Joshua, and continued till the day of the captivity of the land, 18:30.”

Verse 18
Genesis 49:18. I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord — These words may be considered in two lights; 1st, As connected with the preceding prophecy concerning Dan, according to the explanation given in the last note. Under a foresight of their dishonourable, perfidious, and serpent-like conduct, and the general idolatry which should be introduced among his descendants through their means, Jacob says, I have waited for, expected and desired, thy help, O Lord, to save my posterity from the manifold sins and temporal calamities which I foresee are coming upon them, and especially from spiritual and eternal miseries, by that Messiah whom thou hast promised, that seed of the woman which is to bruise the head of him that bruises the heel of thy people. Or, 2d, They may be considered as an unconnected sentence, an ejaculation, in which he interrupts the thread of his discourse, and breathes out his desires after God. And the pious ejaculations of a warm and lively devotion, though sometimes they may be incoherent, yet are not impertinent. It is no absurdity, when we are speaking to men, to lift up our hearts to God. The salvation he waited for was, 1st, Christ, the promised seed, whom he had spoken of, Genesis 49:10; now he was going to be gathered to his people, he breathes after him to whom the gathering of the people shall be. 2d, Heaven, the better country, which he declared plainly that he sought, Hebrews 11:13-14, and continued seeking now he was in Egypt.

Verse 19
Genesis 49:19. Concerning Gad, he alludes to his name, which signifies a troop, foresees the character of that tribe, that it should be a warlike tribe; and so we find, 1 Chronicles 12:8, the Gadites were men of war fit for the battle. He foresees that the situation of that tribe on the other side Jordan would expose it to the incursions of its neighbours, the Moabites and Ammonites; and that they might not be proud of their strength and valour, he foretels that the troops of their enemies should, in many skirmishes, overcome them; yet, that they might not be discouraged by their defeats, he assures them that they should overcome at the last — Which was fulfilled, when in Saul’s time and David’s the Moabites and Ammonites were wholly subdued.

Verse 20
Genesis 49:20. Out of Asher his bread shall be fat — This implies that it should be a rich tribe, replenished not only with bread for necessity, but with fatness, with dainties, royal dainties, and these exported out of Asher to other tribes, perhaps to other lands. The God of nature has provided for us not only necessaries but dainties, that we might call him a bountiful benefactor; yet, whereas all places are competently furnished with necessaries, only some places afford dainties. Corn is more common than spices. Were the supports of luxury as universal as the supports of life, the world, in consequence of the wickedness of man, would be worse than it is, and surely it is bad enough.

Verse 21
Genesis 49:21. Naphtali is a hind let loose — Those of this tribe were, as the loosened hind, zealous for their liberty, and yet affable and courteous, their language refined, and they complaisant, giving goodly words. Among God’s Israel there is to be found a great variety of dispositions, yet all contributing to the beauty and strength of the body. He closes with the blessings of his best-beloved sons, Joseph and Benjamin: with these he will breathe his last.

Verse 22
Genesis 49:22. Joseph is a fruitful bough — Shooting forth two luxuriant stems or branches, the two numerous tribes which proceeded from his sons; by a well — Or fountain, or water-course, where plants grow fastest. Thus David compares a godly man to “a tree planted by the rivers of waters:” Whose branches run over the wall — The heat of which furthers their growth no less than the moisture received from the water.

Verse 23
Genesis 49:23. The archers have sorely grieved him — Though he now lived in ease and in honour, Jacob reminds him of the difficulties he had formerly waded through. He had had many enemies, here called archers, being skilful to do mischief; they hated him, they shot their poisonous darts at him. His brethren were spiteful toward him, mocked him, stripped him, sold him, thought they had been the death of him. His mistress sorely grieved him, and shot at him, when she solicited his chastity; and then shot at him by her false accusations.

Verse 24
Genesis 49:24. But his bow abode in strength — His faith did not fail; he kept his ground, and came off conqueror. The arms of his hands were made strong — That is, his other graces did their part, his wisdom, courage, patience, which are better than weapons of war: by the hands of the mighty God — Who was therefore able to strengthen him; and the God of Jacob, a God in covenant with him. From thence — From this strange method of Providence, he became the shepherd and stone — The feeder and supporter of Israel, Jacob, and his family. Herein Joseph was a type of Christ; who was shot at and hated, but borne up under his sufferings, and was afterward advanced to be the shepherd and stone: and of the church in general; hell shoots its arrows against her, but heaven protects and strengthens her. But perhaps by the shepherd and stone, Joshua, a descendant of Joseph, by Ephraim, may be here primarily intended. He, as a good shepherd, brought into the pastures of Canaan that flock of the Lord which Moses had indeed led forth from Egypt, but which he had left in a barren wilderness. Thus by Joshua also was Christ typified, whose name he bears, who is the foundation-stone laid in Zion, and the good shepherd, that leads his sheep into the heavenly Canaan, and gives them eternal life.

Verse 25-26
Genesis 49:25-26. Even by the God of thy father Jacob, who shall help thee —

Our experiences of God’s power and goodness, in strengthening us hitherto, are encouragements still to hope for help from him. He that has helped us, will. And by the Almighty, who shall bless thee — And he only blesseth indeed. Observe the blessings conferred on Joseph: 1st, Various and abundant blessings. Blessings of heaven above — Rain in its season, and fair weather in its season; blessings of the deep that lies under — This earth, or with subterraneous mines and springs. Blessings of the womb and the breasts are given when children are safely born and comfortably nursed. 2d, Eminent and transcendent blessings, which prevail above the blessings of my progenitors — His father Isaac had but one blessing, and when he had given that to Jacob, he was at a loss for a blessing to bestow upon Esau; but Jacob had a blessing for each of his twelve sons, and now, at the latter end, a copious one for Joseph. 3d, Durable and extensive blessings: unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills — Including all the products of the most fruitful hills, and lasting as long as they last. Of these blessings it is here said, they shall be — So it is a promise; or, let them be, so it is a prayer, on the head of Joseph — To which let them be a crown to adorn it, and a helmet to protect it.

Verse 27
Genesis 49:27. Benjamin shall raven as a wolf — It is plain Jacob was guided in what he said by a spirit of prophecy, and not by natural affection, else he would have spoken with more tenderness of his beloved son Benjamin, concerning whom he only foretels that his posterity should be a warlike tribe, strong and daring; and that they should enrich themselves with the spoil of their enemies; that they should be active in the world, and a tribe as much feared by their neighbours as any other: in the morning he shall devour the prey — Which he seized and divided over night.

Verse 29
Genesis 49:29. I am to be gathered unto my people — Though death separate us from our children, and our people in this world, it gathers us to our fathers and to our people in the other world. Perhaps Jacob useth this expression concerning death, as a reason why his sons should bury him in Canaan: For (he saith) I am to be gathered unto my people — My soul must go to the spirits of just men made perfect, and therefore bury me with my fathers — Abraham and Isaac, and their wives.

Verse 33
Genesis 49:33. And when Jacob had made an end of commanding of his sons — He put himself in a posture for dying; having sat upon the bed-side to bless his sons, the spirit of prophecy bringing fresh oil to his expiring lamp, when that work was done, he gathered up his feet into the bed — That he might lie along, not only as one patiently submitting to the stroke, but as one cheerfully composing himself to rest. He then freely resigned his spirit into the hand of God, the Father of spirits; he yielded up the ghost — And his separated soul went to the assembly of the souls of the faithful, who, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity; he was gathered to his people.